Journey to the Mountain King

March in Yosemite, cold but still. Late at night, flat on my back. Looking up at the sky with my best friend Mary Mccaughan. I feel the small pebbles against my back, feel the cold creeping up thru my parka and pants, but I do not move – do not dare to move – the vision is too intoxicating.

Growing up in San Francisco, my family did not camp, we did not hike, and we certainly did not explore the wilderness. Occasionally we would go down to the beach, but the Pacific Ocean along Northern California is hardly hospitable to young children with its ice-cold waters and brutal waves. We would look, but rarely touched. More often, our family took strolls through Golden Gate Park, and though a beautiful space; it was hardly nature at her most fierce. And of course, living in San Francisco, we were intimately familiar with the fog. Especially in the Sunset District (talk about irony), the fog was no ‘cat with little feet.’ It was a huge billowing cloud of white which would roll in across the Golden Gate Bridge like a giant avalanche, threatening to drown us in its mists. So come 7th grade, when our biology class was scheduled to take a field trip to Yosemite, I saw this as an adventure on the grandest scale. It was my first time away from home, my first time to Yosemite – I was a virgin camper.

Maybe it was being 13, maybe it was the excitement of being on my own for a time, but on that trip I felt everything so deeply, so passionately. I fell in love with Victor, a blue-eyed boy with long blond hair who sang ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on his guitar. I dared to take a puff of the ‘evil weed’ just to see what it would feel like, and I discovered a yearning so deep it would bring me to tears.

Yosemite. This is a place known for its incomparable beauty and grandeur. Half Dome and El Capitan are depicted in photographs around the world. From the four corners of the earth, millions come to the great valley to experience this very special park. And so I came, like the other pilgrims, not knowing that I would bow before the great god of beauty in this place.

We arrived one afternoon in early March, unloading from our buses, all of us bustling kids – so cock sure of what we knew. But on that trip we were stunned out of our complacency. The cold hit us, the 10-mile hikes blistered our feet, and the elevation had us gasping for breath. Along the way though, I looked up and noticed a few things. At that time of year, Yosemite takes on a more rare beauty. There are no soft green dresses to camouflage the hardness of the stone, no rainbow of flowers to distract the eye. What we saw was pure, unadulterated, stark, nature revealed: the snow capped mountains jutting white and black up against a blinding, blue sky; the playground of the titans – where giant glaciers had once moved, ripping the stone asunder. I walked through the valley in silence.

Among the hard lines of the stone were tucked the waterfalls, which slipped and slid and leaped over the edges to fall hundreds of feet to the ground. In winter though, a magical thing happens; the water changes to snow as it falls to the ground. The drops start their descent at top speed, racing towards the finish line, but as they move thru space they start to change. Those racing rapids of water slow down, shifting as they slow. They transform from falling teardrops to white snowflakes that lazily drift down to the ground. At the base, they pile up – one sheet of white alighting on another – until they form a giant cone of snow, twenty feet high.

One night I had had enough of the crowd, of the boisterous laughing and partying to which I did not belong, so my friend and I wandered down to the shores of a lake. We sat for a while, talking of this and that, not really paying attention. Then we lay back against the banks and were silent for a while. And in that silence crept an awareness of the universe around us. In the darkness I could see stars: millions and billions of them, winking and blinking and sparkling like tiny diamonds in a blue-black velvet sky. Just across the water was the silhouette of El Capitan. Its mammoth shape rose up, a dark black pinnacle against the sky. Rugged. Powerful. Alone. Its form was reflected in the mirrored lake at its base. The black arrowhead shot back towards me, its image softened only by the ripples of the water. The whole night was painted in varying depths of black and dark blue. We lay that evening, cradled in the arms of the night maiden, honored to have witnessed the mountain king, standing so mighty in that night sky.

All the while I watched this event, I felt my heart expanding, my breaths deepening, so I could take the impressions further into myself. I wanted to melt deep down into the earth, to be swallowed up by it. I craved - I yearned – I longed to be one with the earth. Eternity captured in a few minutes. Though I wanted the feeling to go on and on, I could not sustain it, and eventually sounds from the cabins crept back in thru the vision, and I drifted back to the mundane.

That night I experienced God. I do not claim to know which God it was, nor is that important. What is important is that what I felt that night was so much bigger, so much more glorious than anything I had felt before.

Upon recalling that vision, I am struck by the thought, “I am a mere mortal who fears she will never come close to creating something as glorious as Yosemite.” However, I am also heartened by what mankind has been able to create in its quest for beauty: the power of Michelangelo’s David, Mozart’s heartbreaking compositions, or Shakespeare’s profound poetry. So I tell myself, if I stay true to my spirit, and remember my journey to the Mountain King, then maybe, just maybe, I may get a little closer to creating the beauty I lay within that night.

Poetic Plantings
Landscape Design